An iPhone photo of Elaheh Ahmad, 8, who perished at sea in December 2015 when the boat her family was in sank in the Mediterranean. Photo: Jawad Jalali / Al Jazeera

By D. Parvaz
29 April 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan (Al Jazeera) – The pain etched on refugee faces on Greek and Turkish shores does not remain there. For many Afghans, it follows them home as they are deported back to Afghanistan - the bodies of their drowned loved ones, if they are found, in tow.

Loss followed Massoud Ahmad, 35, and his wife, Weeda Jan, 32, back to Kabul on December 28, along with the bodies of their two children - Gholam Seddiq, nine, and Elaheh, eight.

"They were the top of their class," says Ahmad, wiping tears from his eyes. He lets the tea in front of him grow cold as he tells his story.

He has been crying since the December night when, about 15 minutes into their journey, the boat his family was travelling in tipped after the engine failed and the waves did their worst. All 21 people on board, including the captain, fell into the frigid sea, as the boat rose up, then disappeared into the water.

"We called the coastguard emergency number 20,000 times in 20 minutes. They said someone was coming. No one came," Ahmad explains.

People started dying within a couple of hours - "first the children", says Ahmad. Gholam Seddiq and Elaheh were among them.

"We couldn't hold on to them," he says. "The waves hit us hard and they drifted away from us. We just couldn't hold them.

"I said to my wife, 'Let's take off our life vests and sink. Let's go. We've lost our children.' She said, 'Hold on a little longer,'" Ahmad remembers.

Weeda Jan was three months pregnant.

For nine or 10 hours they screamed for help in the bitterly cold sea. Then, after sun up, a fishing boat found them, weak and dehydrated, with some other survivors. They didn't have the strength to lift themselves in, so had to pulled up and on to the boat.

"We'd been screaming and crying for hours, swallowing salt water, freezing," says Ahmad.

They waited for a Turkish rescue boat, which took them to a clinic in the coastal town of Kusadasi. That was where Weeda Jan was told that she'd miscarried.

"So in total, we lost three children," Ahmad says. "Everyone was crying - the doctors, everyone," he adds. He is still crying.

The bodies of their children were found within a day - two among the 3,771 who died crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece last year.

"They asked us to identify our children's bodies. I didn't have the courage - I said to my wife, 'You go'. She said, 'No, you go'," he remembers.
In the end, they both went to identify Elaheh and Gholam Seddiq.

"We saw our children among the others, including the captain," Ahmad explains. 

With the bodies of their children, they were processed quickly for deportation and sent to the Aydin refugee camp.

"People get stuck there for months. But my wife cried and cried until they let us go - it took a couple of days," he says, adding that they were sent to Istanbul, where they collected their deportation papers.

They returned to Afghanistan with nothing but two small coffins.

But why had they left their country? Ahmad had a good job as a sound designer for Tolo TV by day, and was a successful guitarist by night, playing private parties all over town.

"When the Taliban said they were going to attack Tolo, I knew I had to leave, for the future of my family," he says. [more]

Afghanistan's refugees: Dying for a better life



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